Beautiful Zamboanga: Asia’s Latin City

I find delight in putting into words my kept memories of Zamboanga which is known as Asia’s Latin City and the City of Flowers. But I do agree that Zambaonguenios prefer to affectionately call their city as “Zamboanga Hermosa” a Spanish term for “Beautiful Zamboanga”.

Cuidad de Zamboanga is a first class, highly urbanized city on the tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula that juts out of the bottom of Mindanao Island in Southern Philippines. It is one of the first chartered cities, the sixth most populous and third largest city by land area in the Philippines occupied by Zamboanguenios in at least 25 island communities and 98 barangays. It is comprised of 142,000 hectares of sloping terrain from a surrounding shoreline of coral beaches to mineral-rich mountains in the center of the peninsula.

I was told it was christened the City of Flowers  for its profusion of flowers and for its charming people. The Zamboangueña is famed for her beauty and admired far and wide and blessed with a mixture of races combined to produce mestizas of the Eurasian and Amerasian strains.

Known for Hispanic influences in its culture, the tourism department dubbed and marketed this lively metropolis as the Asia’s Latin City owing to the fact that it still has the most preserved Spanish culture in the Philippines. Needless to say, this moniker is a tribute to its very Hispanic past. One can find a tinge of the country’s unique past in every corner of the city.

I’d like to believe that it is a place unlike any other in the archipelago for while Spain’s three-century rule left its indelible imprint, nowhere was its legacy perhaps so concentrated and embedded than in Zamboanga, which took for its native tongue, Chavacano, the very pleasing mix of Español and native words. For over four centuries, this  Spanish-based creole language, is widely spoken in the city.

A FUSION OF CULTURES

Extra-ordinary and well-preserved heritage buildings, mouth-watering seafood cuisines, absolute shopping experience and an unbelievable ethnic explosion of cultures inspire enthusiastic tourists. While in Zamboanga, a seafood haven, feast on local cuisines for they say, it’s a sin not to try the delicious dishes. Here is the list of what to do in the city.

The Regatta de Zamboanga, a festival of colorful sailboats, is celebrated within the month-long activities of the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival in October every year when colorful songs and dances are performed in the streets.The kaleidoscopic vintas used to be visible only during the La Hermosa Festival when years back, the Department of Tourism  launched the vinta sailing at Paseo del Mar.  History has it that as far back as the 13th and 14th centuries, the city was already a trading center with a vibrant culture of its own, emblazoned against the horizon in the vivid colors of the native vinta sails that fluttered gaily off its shores.

Shop at the Barter Markets and be surprised by the fact that although the concept of barter system is a thing of the past, you may avail of tax free products from nearby countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, inexpensive malongs, batik, textiles pearls, and imported chocolates and coffees among others.

Watch an old Yakan woman displaying her wares and make sure not to go home without buying pasalubong at the Yakan Weaving Village.  There, the rainbow-colored textiles are hand-woven by the Yakan tribes of Basilan.  You can also find other souvenirs here like Maranao brassware, gong, and wooden boats.

Visit the Taluksangay Mosque and village built in 1885 and on record, remains the oldest mosque in Zamboanga Peninsula.  You can also find stilt houses of the descendants of the Sama tribe living in this community.

The best recuerdo of la presencia de España in Zamboanga was and remains to be Fort Pilar, the coastal fort built in 1635. Inside its walls is the Fort Pilar Shrine, then a Spanish garrison. It now houses the city’s patroness and an impressive museum. Don’t miss the candle-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the most photographed spots,  and look for the Immaculate Conception statue created by the National Artist for sculpture – Napoleon Abueva. The museum houses numerous paintings, ethnic costumes, marine life exhibits, indigenous tribes’ memorabilia, and some artifacts from a sunken galleon.

Just a stone’s throw away from the shrine is Paseo del Mar which resembles the bay walk of Manila. Treat yourself to a leisurely walk and hang out with the locals while watching the scenic Zamboanga sunset at the R.T Lim Boulevard.

TOURIST INTERESTS

Explore the Pasonanca Park, known throughout the world as the “Beautiful Park” and has become a popular site for youth citizenship training for boys and girls scout jamborees. Must-see are the El Jardin de Maria and the serene Boy Scout Ground dotted by the iconic green teepees and trees, and a charming tree house. It is known as the “Little Baguio” of the south. There, the Pasonanca Aviary One showcases different species of domestic and imported birds.

The city is blessed with great natural wonders where domestic and foreign tourists can come and enjoy. On the list of wonderful beaches are Sta. Cruz Island famous for its pink coral-sand, the sandy Bolong beach; and the city’s most modern resort at La Vista del Mar. Charter a boat to take you to the nearby Sta.Cruz Island. Bask in its powdery pink sand and azure waters that is perfect for swimming and picnics.

Get wet at the stunning  Merloquet Falls, a pristine beauty  hidden in Sibulao east of the city.

Explore Abong-abong, where you can find several attractions like the famous Climaco Park, Freedom Park, Heroes Hill, Mt.Pulong Bato, and the Girl Scout Camp. See the stilt houses of Rio Hondo, the misunderstood Muslim community which  home to a long stretch of stilt houses.

Although the bustling city center beams with mighty buildings, well-preserved heritage edifices are still visible.  So see it for yourself by bringing your feet down Rizal Park and marvel at the beauty of old colonial buildings.

The splendid, astonishing chocolate-colored Zamboanga City Hall, the heart of the city center. The construction of this Hispanic building started in 1905 and was completed in 1907 by the Federal Government of the United States for the American Governors of the area. Get a glimpse of this unique city hall adorned by thousands of lights during the Christmas season.

Just beside the city hall is the old Plaza Pershing which boasts of a colorful dancing fountain at night and which has a hanging garden on its entrance. It is one of the earliest structures made of cement in Mindanao named after the late governor John “Black” Pershing.

The stretch of pavement from the city hall going to the Fort Pilar shrine is dotted with old houses and government offices resembling Calle Crisologo in Vigan. The archaic lamp posts and edifices line along the stretch of road.

TRAVEL INFO. Zamboanga City is the center of Western Mindanao for commerce and trade, government and finance, transportation and communication. It boasts of an international airport, a huge port area, and the Zamboanga Freeport and Economic Zone Authority.  It is known as the Sardine Capital of the Philippines it being the home of the  most of the sardine and canning factories. Surprisingly, the city enjoys a location that is free from the typhoon belt area.

Thai Airways flies on a regular basis from Dubai to the capital city of Manila. Cebu Pacific Airways have daily flight schedules that can take you away to the City of Flowers in about an hour and a half from Manila.

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